When Ansly Damus, an ethics teacher from Haiti, wants to speak with his wife and their two young children, he calls (only on Sundays) with the help of interpreter Coralie Saint-Louis. This intrusive and cumbersome three-way calling strategy is not because the couple speaks different languages.
When he wants to write her a letter, he sends it to Melody Hart and Gary Benjamin, the Cleveland Heights residents who agreed to sponsor Damus’ most recent petition for asylum, a process he started over two years ago. After speaking out against political corruption, he became a target of death threats and gang violence in his home country.
Saint-Louis, who lives in New York, helps redirect calls to Damus’ wife from the Chardon, Ohio, detention facility where he awaits his next court hearing. Hart prints, scans and emails letters between the couple since he can’t send or receive international mail.
His crime? Nothing. In fact, as a person who “followed the rules, and came in the right way,” Damus has already been granted legal asylum twice. And yet, still, he waits. In a detention facility. Like a prisoner. For two years. His path to Ohio is a direct result of the overflowing (and profitable) immigrant detention centers along our country’s border.
Brave and resolute, in spite of America’s increasingly hostile treatment of immigrants and refugees, Ansly recently allowed his photograph and name to be used as part of an ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) case against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency) advocating for the release of nine asylum seekers. None of the other plaintiffs felt safe to include their names, using only initials in all of the court documents, fearing there could be ICE retaliation.
Thankfully, all of the asylum seekers were released — except for Ansly.
On Sept. 10, the ACLU presented a demand letter on Ansly’s behalf to local ICE officials, though it was immediately clear his release would not be granted. Back to court then, with the ACLU going on his behalf. They’re filing a federal Petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus, a fancy way of saying that he deserves a day in court to determine if his imprisonment is lawful. While it’s unusual for the ACLU to take on the case of just one person at a time, Ansly deserves to benefit from this unintentional activism, a commitment he’s made virtually with his life.
Hart and Benjamin, who intend to provide Ansly a safe home and network of support when he is released, are planning an ACLU supported rally on his behalf from 4 to 5 p.m. Sept. 20 at the ICE Office in Brooklyn Heights, 925 Keynote Circle. Learn more about Ansly and follow his story via FreeAnsly.com, on Facebook via the Free Ansly advocacy group and on Twitter @FreeAnsly.